Michael Jackson was a pop culture superstar, best-selling musician and songwriter. Born in 1954, Michael was the eighth child in his family. As a child in the 1960s and 1970s Michael sang and performed with four of his elder brothers in The Jackson 5. The group was very popular and performed on American variety shows and concerts. In 1972 a 14-year-old Michael released his first solo album, Got to Be There. In 1982 Michael released Thriller, his fourth album, and destined to be his biggest musical success. To date, Thriller has sold 66 million copies and remains the world’s best-selling album.
Jackson has been inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, won 13 Grammy Awards, and had 13 number-one singles in America. Combined together, all of Michael Jackson’s albums have sold 350 million copies.
At the age of 50, Michael Jackson passed away on June 25, 2009, from cardiac arrest brought on by intoxication from prescribed drugs. His death was a major event in pop culture, with over one million Michael Jackson fans asking for a ticket to attend his public memorial service. In the years following Jackson’s death his estate has earned over $100 million dollars a year from licensing and song royalties.
Michael was raised a Jehovah Witness by his mother. Even as his celebrity status went into orbit after the release of Thriller, Michael would spend time each week knocking on doors with other Witness members to spread word about their faith.(1)
In 1987 Michael made a formal announcement that he was “disassociating” himself from Jehovah Witnesses. This decision greatly hurt his mother but it didn’t irrevocably damage their relationship. “I was not required to ‘shun’ my son,’” Katherine Jackson said at the time. “But we can’t talk about matters of faith any longer, which is a shame.”
Shortly after allegations of child abuse rose against Michael in 2005, two interesting incidents happened that brought speculation about his religious beliefs changing.
First, in June 2005 Michael was seen wearing a red bracelet similar to the ones practitioners of Kabbalah wear. Celebrity magazines speculated that Jackson’s close friend, the actress Elizabeth Taylor, had introduced the musician to Kabbalah.(2)
Then in 2008 sources close to the star claimed that Michael had converted to Islam, following in the path of his brother Jermaine. These unnamed sources further went on to suggest that Michael was changing his name to “Mikaeel”, the name of an angel of Allah. However, a public confirmation of this from Michael Jackson never occurred.
It’s said that Michael’s family had a Jehovah Witness ceremony conducted at his funeral service. According to reports passages from the Bible were real aloud including John 3:16 and Ecclesiastes 9:5.
Michael never expressed his personal politics to the press. He was invited to the White House by both Republican and Democratic presidents between the 1970s and 2000s.
On matters of charity and human rights Jackson was vocal. He gave his time to various causes including organizations fighting against AIDS, children’s and animal rights, and battling hunger in Africa.
Perhaps the most watched music video ever, Thriller was a 1983 extended music video that featured Jackson turning into a werewolf and zombie. At the time Michael was a devout Jehovah’s Witness and his religion was strongly opposed to practices that suggested evil spiritual or supernatural powers.
For that reason, Michael requested a disclaimer run before the video began:
Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult.
Making the Thriller video caused great strain between Michael and the Jehovah Witnesses organization. “When I made Thriller with all the ghouls and ghosts, [the church] said that it was demonic and part of the occult and that Brother Jackson can’t do it,” Jackson said in an interview. “I called my lawyer and was crying and I said: ‘Destroy the video, have it destroyed.’ And because he went against my wishes, people have Thriller today. They made me feel so bad about it that I ordered people to destroy it.”(4)
Jackson was married twice in his life: first to Lisa Marie Presley (1994 to 1996), then to Debbie Rowe (1996 to 1999). Michael’s marriage to Rowe resulted in the birth of two children, a daughter named Paris, and boys Prince Michael I and Prince Michael II.
During the first-half of the 1980s Michael was romantically linked to actress Brooke Shields. “Of course we loved each other, but nothing happened romantically,” Shields has said.(5)